Al-Baqarah · Juz 2 · Qur'an Tafseer

The Order to Fast and its Purpose

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In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 183

From the preceding few ayaat we see that the believers are being directly addressed. Whenever you come across the words, “O believers,” become attentive because Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is directly talking to you.

From here we are going to read about the mandatory worship of fasting. Notice that in the preceding ayaat there has been a mention of Tawheed, Salah, Zakah, and Hajj but no Sawm [fasting]. This is the first place in the Qur’an where this pillar of Islam has been spoken about. The ayaat that follow up to ayah 187 are all mainly related to fasting while addressing some other issues as well.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

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The word sayyam [الصِّيَامُ] is from the root seen-wau-meem [sawm] which means “to abstain”. During fasting all sane, healthy and adult Muslims are commanded to abstain from eating, drinking and marital relations from dawn to dusk. The word sawm is derived from the word Saim which is a horse that is kept hungry by his master and raced to build his stamina for battles. By commanding us to give up on our desires for some part of the day, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala intends to build our stamina for our enemy – Satan – whose purpose in life is to make us slip and do actions that displease Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

In an address to the believers of this Ummah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala orders us to fast with the intention of doing so sincerely for Him. When we read the words, “Fasting is prescribed for you…” that should remind us that we do not have “choice” to skip. Fasting is mandatory on everyone who is adult and able. So, whether someone is having exams, a strict work schedule, vacations, or whatever, they cannot leave fasting without a valid reason. This is something that has unfortunately seeped into our lives. While the Sahabah radhiAllahu ‘anhum would fast voluntarily along with the obligatory fasts we look for excuses to leave the obligatory fasts and Muslims can be seen feeling no guilt about it. They will casually tell you that they do not fast in Ramadan (without a medical reason).

[Kitab As-Sawm — the Importance of Fasting]

As people tend to move towards the healthy lifestyle many non-Muslims abstain from eating and drinking voluntarily for a couple of hours. Scientific studies have shown many benefits of giving our livers a break and fasting. Spiritually, fasting purifies the souls and cleanses it of its filth. When a person’s mind is off what he should eat or drink next, he can focus more on his work. While the pleasures are a distraction, fasting helps bring our focus back. It is a completely another discussion that sadly in the month of fasting while we should be cultivating taqwa are minds are focused on the Iftar [fasting-breaking] meal.

[Health Benefits of Fasting]

Past Communities and the Command to Fast

Encouraging the believers to fast, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala mentions that this was something that the previous nation were also ordained to do. He says, “…Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you.” Stop the pity-party and strength yourself to obey the command. Ibn Katheer writes in his exegesis that since the Muslims are the new believers it is their responsibility to be more vigorous in performing this obligatory duty than the previous nations.

We learn that just like the Salah [Muslim prayer], fasting too had always been there from the first of the prophets Adam ‘alayhi salaam to the last Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The manner of praying and fasting could be different but they were always there.

Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani writes in his Tafseer: The reference of the earlier nations shows the importance of fasting on the one hand, and gives an encouragement to the Muslims on the other. It indicates that although there may be some inconvenience in fasting but the same inconvenience was also faced by the earlier communities. This brings a psychological comfort because if an inconvenience is faced by a large number of people it becomes easier to bear.

Since nothing in Islam is purposeless, Allah subhanahau wa ta’ala tells us the purpose for fasting. He says, “…that you may acquire Taqwa [God-consciousness].”

Why have Taqwa?

Notice that the previous ayaat were all commands that we are sometimes negligent about. We limit righteousness to dressing up in a certain way or praying five times a day. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala corrected our understanding of the word Al-Birr and said: It is not righteousness to turn your faces to east or west. We learned a series of additional good deeds that one must do to be called a true pious person. It was a combination of the rights of Allah and the rights of the other people. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala enable us to do them with excellence, aameen.

[What is Al-Birr (piety/righteousness)?]

We were then commanded to exercise the law of equal retribution and be just in our dealings. Neither is the murderer allowed to harm the heirs of the deceased after they have forgiven him nor are the deceased’s heirs permitted to harm the murderer or his heirs after pardoning him or receiving blood money.

[Prescribed for You is Qisas for those Murdered]

Then we learned the instruction to leave a bequest (will) if any one of us holds something valuable and to be just in dividing our property.

[The Qur’anic View of Making Will]

None of this is possible if a person’s heart is void of taqwa [God-consciousness]. It is not the laws of a country, the court, or the police department that can stop people from being unfair or committing crimes but the fear of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Knowing that we have a Mightier being watching each step of ours and is fully-aware of all the secrets of our hearts is the only thing that can actually stop us from committing a wrong against others or ourselves. The thought that we can neither escape His watch or punishment in itself can keep us in check if we are the people of taqwa. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala make us of them, aameen.

So, we learn that the purpose of fasting is not simply to stay away from the permissible things and detox our bodies but to be conscious of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.  Taqwa is the only thing that encourages a person to pursue that which pleases Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and stay away from that which displeases Him.

[Ramadan — the Month of Piety]

A person who has taqwa will be dignified in both his speech and actions. This is not something that he will do only in front of the people but even when he is alone he will be conscious of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. He will be conscious of what he watches, reads, his thoughts and his dealings with the other people. Taqwa is the only way of protecting oneself from the Fire and the enter Jannah.

DOWNLOAD PDF: Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 183

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” [Al-Baqarah 2: 127]
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